BY TAYLOR LIPSETT
|The goalies won the Shootout Championship Cheese Ball|
|Last practice of the season before the gold medal game|
After a long but great season, Team USA came up a couple of goals short and had to settle for the silver medal this past weekend in South Korea. Despite the heartbreaking loss to Canada in the gold medal game, we have a lot to be proud of! We concluded the season with a 14-3 record, we had arguably the most talented team in USA sled hockey history and a number of young players had a breakout season. But the most significant achievement coming from the second-place finish at this year’s World Championship is the team qualification for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. We will be seeded No. 2 in the Paralympics next year and we will have to wait to see who our opponents will be until the conclusion of the final qualifier tournament later this year. What we do know is that Canada, USA and Russia round out the top-three and the Czech Republic and Norway wrap up the top-five. All have officially qualified for Sochi!
The gold medal game proved to be another typical USA vs. Canada showdown, with lots of fast, hard-hitting and strong defensive play. Unfortunately for Team USA, a crazy bounce on a dump in snuck past goaltender Steve Cash, who didn’t have a chance after the puck redirected after taking a crazy bounce on the ice. In my 11 years of playing, I have never seen a puck change direction as drastically as it did without being touched. But that possibility is exactly why coaches always say to “put the puck on the net!” We had a number of chances in the second and third periods, but Canada’s defense clogged up the center of the offensive zone and we could not put the puck past the goal tender.
The hardest part of the gold medal game for me was watching from the stands, just as I had for much of the season. During the semifinal game against Russia, I absorbed a hit right after making a pass and fell over on an outstretched left arm – the same arm that had been giving me problems all season. Since I had not been able to strengthen my shoulder all year, that was all it took to strain my rotator cuff. The staff made the decision to go in to the gold medal game with 100-percent healthy players, which meant I was watching from the stands. I honestly cannot blame them, and I would have hated to be a liability to the team out there on the ice with a shoulder that was not 100 percent, but everything in me wanted to be out there to try to get my team back in the game, back on top of the sled hockey world.
With the season over, and a silver medal to add to the collection, the work for Sochi has already begun. There is nothing more motivating than the taste of defeat! That feeling of watching another country’s flag raised and anthem played. Despite the horrible feeling, I feel like losing is not always a bad thing. It reminds you of the great things you have been able to accomplish in the past, and reignites the fire inside you to do everything you can to again be triumphant. I am reminded of a couple of quotes in regards to failure that have helped me come to this realization. Jim Valvano once said, “Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first steps to succeeding." Only if we give up and accept the fact that we did not achieve our goal will we have failed. If we all go home during the off-season and train as we never have before, push ourselves to do that extra rep, that extra lap, take those extra shots at the end of practice, then we have learned from the past and will be on our way to our ultimate goal of defending our Paralympic gold medal.
It has been an amazing year and a great experience sharing all of the ups and the down, the wins and the losses, and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what it is to be a Paralympic sled hockey player. I promise I will do everything in my power to get healthy and stronger this off-season! I will be back and better than ever next season to help Team USA defend our Paralympic title in Sochi! I am thankful for everyone’s support throughout the year and really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and follow my journey! I will leave you with this quote from Michael Jordan. It is a quote that I will read countless times this off-season to remind myself to continue to get better… "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."